Taking seasonal themes and crafting a menu around them is no longer innovative. If suddenly every dessert has a pumpkin spice element you know you are heading towards Halloween, but what happens if you look for inspiration elsewhere?
We all crave experience every time we walk into a bar or restaurant, whether that is a delicious plate to put on your Instagram or a cocktail crafted with theatrical ease. So what do themed menus bring to the table?
Resonating with your guests
Choosing an iconic theme that resonates with your target market is the first success. If you are flooded with millennials, opting for a romantic Disney theme could set you in good stead. For example, The Kensington has taken their afternoon tea to new heights with The Tale As Old As Time Afternoon Tea. Anyone born in the 90’s will remember the Disney classic as a part of their childhood and will yearn for a Chip cup full of ‘The Grey Stuff’ or an edible rose encased in vanilla and gold jelly. It has obviously been successful as it has released extra dates, meaning the special menu will run until the end of June 2018.
If you are looking to incite the same nostalgia with a more classic twist, The Blind Pig has combined childhood classics with adult drinks. A cocktail menu inspired by favourite stories sees A. A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh transformed into the Hunny Pot, while Paddington Bear, Peter Pan, The BFG and James and The Giant Peach are all featured with appropriate flavours and garnishes. What elevates the Long and Short Great British Tales menu is the attention to detail. Not only does each cocktail look stunning, but The Blind Pig commissioned illustrator Masha Karpushina to tie in the drinks and stories with a new menu designed to read like a storybook.
The restaurant industry speaks of taking guests on a culinary journey but this rarely happens with cocktails. The Worship Street Whistling Shop has taken that idea a little more literally with a new menu launched in March that is themed around an atlas. Each drink is inspired by a place, both geographically and historically. These cocktails are not designed to be drunk alone, instead, The Whistling Shop has suggested ‘routes’ such as the Viaje don Conquistador that offers a journey from the Inquisition cocktail (Spanish 16th century) to the Tepache cocktail with Mexican themes. We head back with the Spanish Cocktail Connection and move on to the Aviation Evolution cocktail, finishing the journey in 1919 and connecting the old world with the new.
Identity and Quality
Picking a theme and retaining quality, aesthetics and class can be a difficult balancing act. Often establishments take it too far and it can feel overworked, however, some venues are able to streamline and pair back the aesthetics and marry both menu and décor to form a cohesive experience.
Scarfes Bar encompasses the artist and caricaturist Gerald Scarfe on both the walls and the menu. An ode to Gerald’s satirical comments on modern British history, public and fictional figures adorn the walls but are also transformed into beautifully blended cocktails.
The Bletchley is the ultimate in cocktail experience and for any WW2 buff or wannabe Sherlock Holmes, it is worth a visit. This is a venue committed to its theme, with staff using phrases from the 40’s and speaking as if the war continues upstairs. Code cracking is intrinsic to the bar starting from the booking process to ordering cocktails. It may not be the best place to relax for a quiet and well-crafted cocktail but a must for an experience junkie.
By picking a theme that you can perform to perfection, never wavering on quality and substance, you also reinforce your own brand identity. While a venue looking to make a name being quirky and cool might opt for Alice in Wonderland or a menu inspired by Haruki Murakami, those channelling class and elegance may choose The Great Gatsby or Anna Karenina as their muse. Tapping into a theme your guests will love shows you understand their psyche while allowing them to enter a world beyond just the restaurant.